Ohio EPA fires 2 in lead contamination probe

Posted at 11:43 PM, Feb 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-17 23:43:48-05

TOLEDO, Ohio -- The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency fired two employees and demoted a third Wednesday following an internal investigation of how it handled the lead contamination in a village's drinking water.

The firings came after the agency looked into why it took months for the agency's top administrators to find out about high lead levels in the northeast Ohio village of Sebring.

The state EPA said it fired an employee at its central office who failed to make sure lab results were sent to a regional office reviewing the lead testing.

The agency said in a statement that the missed step was critical to figuring out whether lead levels are above federal guidelines and if residents should be warned.

The employee's supervisor also was let go.

A manager in the state EPA's northeast Ohio office was demoted for not alerting his supervisors to the problem after telling the village about the high readings in December, the agency said.

State environmental officials have said the operator of Sebring's water plant waited months to notify people about high lead readings.

Residents in Sebring, near Youngstown, and two other communities, said they were not told until mid-January about the lead, which is especially dangerous to young children and can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

Federal prosecutors and the state agency also are looking into whether the water plant manager misled EPA officials about whether residents were told about the lead. The plant manager, who has since been replaced, called the allegations an "outright lie."

Democrats in Ohio have criticized the state's EPA, saying it have stepped in much sooner when it first realized the village had not told residents.

The state, meanwhile, is continuing to test water samples submitted by homeowners in the village since mid-January. Forty of the nearly 900 homes have shown lead levels above the federal standard.

The most recent samples tested below the threshold, according to the EPA, which says running the tap for a few minutes has eliminated any detectable lead in the water.